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Antibiotics have been widely used in farming, not only to treat or prevent infection in farm animals, but also to help them to gain weight more quickly and hence to supply cheaper food. However, overuse of antibiotics encourages resistance and the production of more virulent strains of pathogens. Consequently, from 2006 the European Union will ban the use of growth promoting antibiotics (GPAs) in farming. Livestock producers will need to identify substitutes for GPAs, which may still be permitted in the US and other food-producing countries, if they are to maintain their productivity and competitive edge.

More natural feedstuffs and supplements taken from plants could replace antibiotics in farming. So, the EU has selected from the first call in FP6 a Specific Targeted Research Project, Plants and their extracts and other natural alternatives to antimicrobials in feeds (REPLACE), to promote safer farming practices in the production of healthier food for the European consumer. The project team will trawl the plant kingdom for safer alternatives to antibiotics in animal feed and link fragmented research already under way in the EU.


During an earlier project, RUMEN-UP, over 500 samples of plant materials were collected as possible feed supplements for ruminants. These will be the first source for the study as a lot of data are already available on them. Promising plant materials, which are suitable for other farmed animals, will be added, and they will all be tested for their possible impact on human and animal health, food quality, and efficient use of natural resources. The work on ruminants aims to improve the content of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) in beef, lamb and dairy products. CLAs, which offer a range of health benefits in the human diet, are both formed and broken down again in the rumen of cattle and sheep. One aim in the project will be to alter the biochemistry of ruminant digestion so that more CLAs are able to survive. Finding an additive that helps ruminants to digest the fibre of forage plants, and consequently encourage their use, is another goal of the project. And identifying natural remedies for parasitic worms in cattle is a further target.


Producers of pigs, chickens and fish are those most dependent on GPAs at present, so REPLACE will focus on plantbased substitutes for GPAs. Poultry can be infected with types of Campylobacter that are easily transmitted to people and a Clostridium which gives chickens gastroenteritis, causing major losses. Plantbased products able to counter these infections and help the absorption of nutrients will be sought, tested in laboratories and screened for safety. The best will go on to full-scale animal trials.
The high population densities in fish farming can cause infections which are currently being countered with antibiotics. The project will seek plant extracts that can target specific pathogens, and natural alternatives to artificial growth promoters. Candidate compounds will be screened on larvae and the successful ones tested on larger fish.

Two significant threats to the profitability of European pig farming are piglets' tendency to diarrhoea soon after weaning, caused by E. coli, and failure to thrive, resulting from infection by Lawsonia. In close collaboration with a related project, Feed For Pig Health, REPLACE will look for substances that can inhibit these disease agents at crucial stages in their infection.

REPLACE will strengthen the competitiveness of European biotechnology and food production, give consumers healthier food with fewer artificial additives, and promote a more natural style of farming.

List of Partners

  • Rowett Research Institute (UK)
  • University of Hohenheim (Germany)
  • University of León (Spain)
  • University of Reading (UK)
  • Moredun Research Institute (UK)
  • Research Institute of Veterinary Medicine, University of Veterinary Medicine (Slovak Republic)
  • National Veterinary Institute (Norway)
  • August Cieszowski Agricultural University (Poland)
  • Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences (Denmark)
  • CRINA SA (Switzerland)
  • Alltech Ireland (Ireland)
Full title:
Plants and their extracts and other natural alternatives to antimicrobials in feeds
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
R. J. Wallace, Rowett Research Institute,
EC Scientific Officer:
Hallgeir Herikstad,
EU contribution:
€ 2.9M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top